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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 21 October 2005


Higher Education Students (Loans and Grants)

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): The level of support available to full-time students in the academic year 2006–07 will generally be 2.5 per cent., higher than for 2005–06, in line with forecast price increases. Students entering full-time higher education in 2006–07 will be eligible for a new grant of up to £2,700. For all full-time students, the basic student loans for living costs have been increased above the rate of inflation so that they will match the median of students' basic living costs as established by the 2002–03 Student Income and Expenditure Survey. All full-time students will be eligible for loans towards their fees, and will repay these loans after they have graduated, rather than up-front.

In 2006–07, the maximum fee grant available for low-income part-time undergraduates will increase to £1,500 FTE from £1,180 FTE in 2005–06; an increase of 27 per cent. As in 2005–06, a banding system will apply and the three levels of fee grant introduced in the current year will be retained. A £250 course grant towards the costs of studying will also be retained.

I am placing two Memoranda in the Library giving details of the new loan, grant and fee rates for 2006–07. Those rates set out in Memorandum 1 will be incorporated in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2006, which will cover support for eligible students under the current arrangements. Those set out in Memorandum 2 will be incorporated in the Education (Mandatory Awards) Amendment Regulations 2006 and the Education (Student Loans) Amendment Regulations 2006, which will cover the extremely small number of students who in 2006–07 will still be receiving awards and loans under the pre-1998 arrangements. These regulations will all be laid before Parliament in due course.


Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The European Union Agriculture and Fisheries Council will meet in Luxembourg on 24 and 25 October 2005. I will chair the agriculture items with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, in the UK seat. Ben Bradshaw will chair the fisheries items with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Jim Knight, in the UK seat.

The Council will start at 11am on Monday with the fisheries items on the agenda: "Recovery measures for Southern Hake and Norway lobster stocks", where we
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hope to reach political agreement, and the "EU/ Norway fisheries agreement" where ministers will hold an exchange of views on the agreement.

The Fisheries Commissioner will then update the Council on the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils.

Ben Bradshaw will host a lunch at which Fisheries Ministers will discuss ideas for improving Council working methods with regard to the annual agreement of Total Allowable Catches and Fishing Quotas.

After lunch, the Council will vote on whether to reject a Greek ban on the marketing of 17 varieties of genetically modified maize seeds. There will also be a vote on Commission proposals for authorisations of the use of maize varieties GA21 and MON 863 in food.

The Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection will give an update on the recent outbreak of avian influenza in Romania, Greece and Turkey. He will also present a report on the review of the Animal By-products Regulation.

The Council will then consider the proposal for Forest Law, Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), where we hope to reach political agreement. The proposal would introduce measures to tackle illegal logging.

The Agriculture Commissioner will follow with a presentation of her Communication on simplification and better regulation of agriculture policy.

The Council will take an AOB point on the definition of shallots at the request of the French.

On Tuesday, the Council will hold a policy debate on the Commission's proposals on reform of the sugar regime. The discussion will focus on the following points:

There will be a lunch at which the Agriculture Commissioner will provide an update on WTO agricultural negotiations.

In the margins of the Council I will hold a series of trilateral meetings with the Commission and those Member State Ministers whom I was not able to see at the last Council meeting, to discuss sugar reform.


British Council Art Exhibitions

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The British Council, although not a Government Department, receives a substantial grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Council regularly organises or sponsors exhibitions overseas of works of art loaned from
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national galleries and private collections in the United Kingdom. It provides certain assurances or guarantees in respect of loss or damage while these works are on loan.

In the six months ending on 30 September 2005, the British Council provided such assurances to 15 national lenders and undertakings to 79 private lenders. The value of the contingent liabilities outstanding on 30 September 2005 in respect of private lenders was £14,758,122. In respect of national lenders it was £24,676,000.


Stephen Lawrence Steering Group

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Earlier this year, I asked my officials to carry out a review of race advisory panels within the Home Office to ensure that we are getting the most effective advice. The review recommended we move away from Standing Committees to a project-based approach, in which groups with relevant perspectives, community links and expertise are brought together to offer advice on specific issues within timescales that help us to deliver change quickly.

I have therefore stood down the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group and am establishing a number of project groups to take forward this work. Many of the members of the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group will be involved in projects.

The first set of new projects will include:

As part of our cross Whitehall leadership role we have also identified two areas where we could work with other Government Departments:

The project groups will involve leading practitioners, business leaders, academics and professionals. I want to make sure in particular that we engage young people in this process. Existing projects which are sponsored by the Home Office in consultation with Race Advisory Panels are: Stop and Search, Racist Incidents, the Police Race and Diversity Learning and Development Board, the Naturalisation and Integration Advisory Board, Drugs and Prisons will continue.

The Lawrence Steering Group (LSG) was set up in 1999 to oversee progress and advise on the implementation of the 70 recommendations from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. With the advice and support of its members, the majority of the 70 recommendations have been implemented. Those that are outstanding are being actioned by the relevant
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departments to ensure compliance with the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report.

I am grateful to the work of all those who have been members of the Lawrence Steering Group, and recognise in particular the tireless and significant contributions of Doreen and Neville Lawrence. The work of the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group has been central to the very real progress which has been made in the criminal justice system and especially in the police service, in combating racism and giving better service to all communities. The name of Stephen Lawrence will continue to be a driving force for change in race relations and elimination of race discrimination.

The work of increasing the responsiveness of the criminal justice system, policing to the needs of citizens and of making them truly representative of the communities they serve is far from complete. More needs to be done to intensify the focus on race and address the issues that are pertinent to building the trust and confidence between the black and minority ethnic communities and the police service and criminal justice system.

These changes in the way that we work on issues, in no way represents a lessening of the Governments commitment to the race equality agenda. There are now clearer lines of accountability for the projects through Cabinet. Earlier this year, I reaffirmed our commitment to race equality in the police service in my response to the CRE's inquiry into racism in the police service, and I do the same again now.

The 6th and final annual report of the Stephen Lawrence Steering Group is to be published on 27 October and I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. I will also shortly publish a report carried out on behalf of the Home Office by the London School of Economics into the effect of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry on policing. Again, I shall place copies in the Library.

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